Thursday 15 May 2014

Burgundy, Wine of Kings – vs Roncier

There are probably people who drink Burgundy every day. They probably live in Burgundy.

The rest of us pay handsomely to occasionally enjoy the image of Falstaffian indulgence which seems married to Burgundy. 

“Fancy a glass of Bordeaux with that?” sounds somehow cerebral. “A spot of Jumilla Monastrell?” suggests you’re enjoying an actress. And “How about a glass of Shiraz?” begs the answer “Or, you could punch me in the face…” 

But “Let’s have a glass of Burgundy, eh?” – now, there’s an invitation. Burgundy, as Byron described it, “in all its sunset glow”.Burgundy, that “Olympian nectar” (thank you, Petrarch). So when I walk past a wine merchant, and they have these bottles on display, labelled “Burgundy, £8.99”, I think I could be on to a winner. This Roncier might be the kind of modestly-priced, under-specified Burgundy which Burgundians presumably drink for themselves.

Perhaps the locals haven’t spotted it. The merchant is, after all, on a road which has featured in one of those CCTV programmes called something like Camera, Action, Unprovoked Violence. The people around here probably think Burgundy refers to the colour of the wine, and are still looking for the ones labelled Crimson and Russet as if they’re in a paint shop.

It has a grand-looking label, and it’s in a Burgundy bottle, that shoulderless design once said by a Bordeaux négociant to be “shaped that way because it pours faster.” But…is it really Burgundy? I have to ask. 

The shop assistant draws attention to the fact that Roncier comes from Mercurey. But the label bears only the lowly designation Vin de France; no vintage; and the following guff in French on the back label: When I arrive in your cellar, let me rest a few days. The trip was a bit tiring, and I want to give you the best of myself. 

Damn cheek! I’m knackered myself, as a matter of fact, largely from walking to this wine merchant. My trip was also “a bit tiring”, actually, and this bottle has probably been having a “rest” on the shelf for several weeks. No, this Burgundy is going down tonight, with the artisan steak & kidney pie I’ve just bought from across the road. And this is the first time my listing of a wine’s characteristics has to include the word lazy.

Philip the Bold, in a ruling of 1395, referred to Burgundy as “the best and most precious and suitable wines of the kingdom, consumed by the Pope, the King and several other lords.” Only a small degree of bias might possibly be inferred from his other title – Duke of Burgundy.

The winemakers of Bordeaux naturally disagree, referring to it as a drink of sauce and blood. One Bordelais was given a glass to taste on a television show, and told afterwards that it was Burgundy. “Burgundy, really?” he said. “I had no idea. It’s excellent – but just the same, I prefer wine.”

Well, ditto. When the cork comes out of this one, I see it is printed with 170 ans of qualité – 1842-2012, a statement which proves more accurate in its mathematics than its judgment. 

This Roncier has a very faint bouquet, reminiscent of pinot noir being opened in an adjacent room. It is then rapidly followed by a car crash of unappealing flavours – bitterness, damp wool and the lickings of old boiled sweet wrappers. Never mind the good name of Burgundy, it does little credit to the definition of wine. 

The label does not bear any vintage because, they say on their website, it has a consistent flavour. I don’t know whether to be reassured that I didn’t just get a bad year, or appalled that, year after year, it never gets any better. But I soldier on through it – unlike the French themselves, I rarely admit defeat.

Once again I have been frustrated in my endeavour to enjoy top-shelf wine at bottom-shelf prices. Indeed, you could say my endeavour is like the wine itself – fruitless. If this is the kind of lower-priced local table wine which Burgundians themselves drink, I can only agree with that Bordelais. Burgundy, really? I prefer wine.



  1. Roncier sounds like the sort of word that a Cockney wide boy would use to describe his new second-hand car. 'I got the Daimler Double-Six cos it's roncier, than a Jag, know what I mean?' You can imagine Bob Hoskins saying it in Mona Lisa.

    1. Yes! - a car, or a flat - "I'm movin' over to Dalston, 'cos it's a bit roncier, innit..."



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